Dogfish are not an invasive species but a lot of fishermen would describe them as invasive as well as a number of other terms that we can't post here. While most species swim in schools, a more appropriate term for a school of dogfish would be a swarm, and these swarms can contain thousands of dogfish.
Groundfish fishermen work very hard to target species and diminish their impact on species that they are not intending to catch. When fishermen encounter dogfish though, these animals destroy their gear and cost them quite a bit of money. Fishermen want to avoid dogfish but it seems to be getting harder and harder every year due to the increasing number of dogfish in the Gulf of Maine. It also does not help that the spiny dogfish are predators that feed on species that groundfish fishermen work diligently to conserve including codfish and baby lobsters.
And this year, of course, is no different and the dogfish are showing up in droves. They are also showing up earlier than in past years making it harder for fishermen to bring good seafood to shore and make a decent living. In an already tumultuous year, these dogfish are making things even more difficult.
Our friends at the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance have been working on an initiative the past few years to promote local, sustainably-caught dogfish in restaurants and markets in the Massachusetts area, and there have been similar initiatives in Maine in the past. Dogfish are common in the UK and often used for fish and chips. Dogfish are a good example of how we can do better as consumers.
Rather than demanding what we are familiar with, we could do better by listening to the fishermen and what they are seeing in abundance, and be willing to try new kinds of fish. We are connected to our seafood system just as we are connected to our food system. We have a role to play that can help fishermen in their efforts to be stewards of the ocean and all we have to do is be willing to try new fish.
And then maybe instead of being the poster animal for disaster, dogfish can be an opportunity for a better and brighter future.
"In a world where we are in desperate need of spreading our food choices across a broader spectrum to heal our food system, when we need to restore fisheries and habitats as well as create and preserve jobs, and in a day when we see the value associated with traditional cultural pathways, then the simple act of eating a variety of species like dogfish can change our world for the better."
-- Andrew Zimmern
Here's a recipe from Andrew Zimmern for traditional fish and chips. He recommends cod, rockfish, dogfish, hake, or haddock.
Side note: My first article for National Fisherman was back in 2012, "Softening the image of spiny dogfish." Andrew Zimmern was in Mass for an episode of Bizarre Foods and spoke with Chris Porter, Patriot Lobster, about dogfish. I spoke with Porter for the article and I didn't get to speak directly with Zimmern but his PR person answered my emails so that was pretty cool.
The above quote was featured in the article I wrote for National Fisherman.